Anne of Green Gables
Review by Pan Wendt
There were many changes made with this year’s production of Anne of Green Gables at the Charlottetown Festival, but for the most part these weren’t too obvious and it was business as usual: a slick, strong, entertaining show that totally won over its audience. And since one of the things that makes the show so successful is its classic quality—the feeling that everything is in its place, nobody is overreaching, no unnecessary detail is intruding—it probably wouldn’t do to make jarring changes.
Even visually, in terms of sets and costumes, but also in the way the show is choreographed, things are still kept simple and understated. In general the musical numbers, although they feature complex interplay (as in “We Clearly Requested a Boy” and “General Store,” to take random examples), don’t involve over-the-top flourishes or climaxes where everybody is singing at once at the top of their lungs with arms flung in six different directions, as in much Andrew Lloyd Webber. There is an avoidance of showing off in Anne that seems wholly appropriate to its Island setting, and makes Anne herself stand out all the more.
What was different was the pacing. Scene transitions were done more quickly, often in half-darkness that revealed the silhouettes of actors leaving the stage from previous scenes and gave some hint at what was about to come. Sometimes this was a little strange in a play that so often makes a virtue of being clearly-drawn and well-lit. But in general the new transitions were a plus, mostly because they kept the second act moving, where in the past it had sometimes dragged in places, and because they shortened the length of an already very long show.
The other key change in this year’s Anne was with the cast, where a lot of new faces were introduced in key roles. Maybe because of this, and because it was still early in the season (3 weeks in), I thought I detected a rough moment or two. But since I’m still not even sure those moments were there, it couldn’t have been too severe. The new cast members were great, for the most part. Amy Wallis makes a solid Anne, with acting and vocal range, and the new Matthew, Sandy Winsby, had a great warm and gritty voice and understated charisma. Plus he and Wallis had real chemistry going throughout the show. The new Marilla, Janet MacEwen, was harder to warm up to, with the choke in her voice seeming a bit mannered at first, but in the end I was totally sold on her as well, especially her acting. All three are great finds. Much of the supporting cast stood out, as always, with waggish Terry Hatty as the mailman/stationmaster, and Sweeney MacArthur as a weird squinting Scottish version of Mr. Phillips the most memorable on this night.
Still the best theatre on the Island, and it would stand up anywhere. I’ve now taken my girls three times in three years and it’s not getting old.